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Court will review $2.8 million award to Iranian
Legal Watch | 2008/06/22 15:50
The Supreme Court will review a ruling that allows the brother of an Iranian terrorism victim to collect $2.8 million.

The justices said Monday they will consider overturning a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in the case of Dariush Elahi, who is seeking the money as compensation for the killing of his brother, Cyrus, in Paris in 1990.

French authorities blamed the Iranian government for the killing.

In 2000, Dariush Elahi sued Iran in federal court in Washington. The Iranian government failed to respond to the lawsuit and, after a trial, a judge awarded Elahi $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages.

When Dariush Elahi accepted $2.3 million from the U.S. government under a law that allows terrorism victims to collect damages from the U.S. Treasury, lawyers for the Bush administration and the Iranian government said he relinquished his claim to the rest of the original judgment.

But the appeals court said that he is entitled to collect another $2.8 million from a California company that owes Iran for a canceled weapons shipment.



Court Nixes Dog-Killing Deputy's Job Transfer
Legal Watch | 2008/05/23 14:46
A sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a dog while on duty should not have been reassigned to the same sheriff's department, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled.

Deputy David Freeman was bitten by a dog, and the owner refused to help him. Freeman responded by shooting the dog, causing injuries so severe that the dog had to be euthanized.

But the bitten deputy suffered only minor injuries that did not require a trip to the hospital.

Sheriff David Zoellner fired Freeman for violating department policy. Freeman appealed to the Leavenworth County civil service board, which transferred him to a "comparable position in the Jail Division."

Judge Marquardt affirmed the district court's ruling that the board had improperly placed Freeman in a different section of the same sheriff's department.

The district court found that the law's provision for Freeman to go to a different department means a "law enforcement office completely separate and apart from the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office."

The appeals court reversed the board's order to transfer Freeman to a different county, saying the board lacked the authority to do so.


Taser Stuns Coroners with Win in Autopsy Reports Case
Legal Watch | 2008/05/08 14:37

An Ohio judge has given medical examiners around the country a shock by ordering a coroner to remove any reference to Tasers in her autopsy reports on three men who died after police officers shot them with the stun guns.

Amnesty International estimates that since June 2001, more than 150 people have died in the U.S. following Taser shocks, but the gun's manufacturer has been suing medical examiners who have cited its products in autopsy reports.

That aggressive strategy paid off big time after a four-day bench trial of Taser International's case against Dr. Lisa Kohler, the chief medical examiner of Summit County, Ohio. She had identified the physiological stress of being incapacitated by a 50,000-volt Taser as a contributory cause of the deaths of Dennis Hyde, 30, Richard Holcomb, 18, and Mark McCullaugh, 28.

“There is simply no medical, scientific, or electrical evidence to support the conclusion that the Taser X26 had anything to do with the death[s],” Court of Common Pleas Judge Ted Schneiderman said in a May 2 decision.

Under Ohio law, a judge can direct a coroner “to change his decision as to [the] cause and manner and mode of death.” Schneiderman ordered the county to delete any reference to a “contributing factor of electrical pulse incapacitation” in the Hyde and Holcomb autopsy reports and similar language in the McCullaugh report.



9th Circuit Resurrects School Bible Club Lawsuit
Legal Watch | 2008/04/29 14:41
The 9th Circuit partially revived a lawsuit pitting a Seattle-area school district's non-discrimination policy against students' right to form a Bible club that requires members to declare their Christian faith.

A three-judge panel upheld in August 2007 Kentridge High School's decision to ban Truth, a proposed extracurricular club that required members to profess "a belief in the Bible and in Jesus Christ." These criteria inherently exclude non-Christians in violation of the non-discrimination policy, the judges concluded.

The court withdrew its opinion, replacing it with one that still allowed Kent School District to refuse to recognize discriminatory clubs, but took issue with waivers given to groups such as the Men's Honor Club and the Girl's Honor Club, which exclude members based on gender.

"There is no evidence in the record as to why these groups were allowed apparent waivers from the district's non-discrimination policy," Judge Wallace wrote. The court allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with their claim that the school chose to extend waivers to some student groups, but not theirs, based on religion or the religious content of their speech.


Appeals Court Rules Against Qualcomm
Legal Watch | 2008/03/20 17:57

A federal appeals court has turned down Qualcomm Inc.'s request to hold off imposition of an injunction against sales of some of the company's cellphone chips, while Qualcomm pursues an appeal of a patent suit won by rival Broadcom Corp.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, without providing details, ruled Tuesday that Qualcomm had not met its burden of proof to win a stay pending appeal of the injunction, which was ordered by federal judge in Santa Ana, Calif. on December 31.

The appeals court also denied a motion for Sprint Nextel Corp. to intervene in the case. The company is among the cellphone carriers potentially affected by the injunction.

A federal jury concluded last year that Qualcomm infringed three Broadcom patents, covering features that include digital-video technology, technology for allowing cellphones to use two or more networks simultaneously as well as a push-to-talk feature for instant communications between phones.

The subsequent injunction by U.S. District Judge James Selna had an immediate effect on U.S. sales of some handsets using Qualcomm chips. But most of the affected products fall under a sunset provision so that the company can continue selling them through January 2009 if it pays royalties to Broadcom. Qualcomm has been working on technical changes to some products to avoid infringing the Broadcom patents.

A Qualcomm spokeswoman, in a prepared statement, said: "Although our motion for a stay was denied, the Federal Circuit has recognized the need for speedy resolution of the many issues raised by the verdict and remedy in this case, and has therefore granted Qualcomm's motion for an expedited schedule for briefings and oral argument."



Supreme Court to Hear Indecency Case
Legal Watch | 2008/03/19 17:59
The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped into one of the biggest free speech fights of the past three decades, but it's unclear how far the court will go when it rules on just how much trouble broadcasters can get into for a slip of the tongue.

On Monday, the court agreed to hear arguments over the Federal Communications Commission's policy regarding so-called "fleeting expletives" in a closely watched case that will decide whether the government can fine or revoke a broadcaster's license because someone says a bad word. The case will be argued late this year.

Both News Corp., the Fox Broadcasting parent that wanted its victory in a lower court to stand, and the FCC, which pushed the Bush administration to appeal the case, applauded the justices' decision.

"The commission, Congress and most importantly parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said.

Solicitor general Paul Clement, the Bush administration's top lawyer, urged the court to take the case, arguing that the appeals court decision had placed "the commission in an untenable position," powerless to stop the airing of expletives even when children are watching.

Fox said the move would "give us the opportunity to argue that the FCC's expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace, where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing."

The case surrounds two incidents in which celebrities used profanity during the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002, Cher told the audience: "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year? So f--- 'em." The next year, Nicole Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f---ing simple."


Court Accepts Crime Lab Case
Legal Watch | 2008/03/17 18:02
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether prosecutors can use crime lab reports as evidence without having the forensic analyst who prepared them testify at trial.

The reliability of crime labs has been questioned in several states and at the federal level in recent years.

State and federal courts have come to different conclusions about whether recent Supreme Court decisions affirming the constitutional right of a defendant to confront his accusers extend to lab reports that are used in many drug and other cases.

The case the justices accepted, and will consider in the fall, comes from Massachusetts. Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed that cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which Melendez-Diaz was riding.

Rather than accept the report, however, Melendez-Diaz objected that he should be allowed to question the person who prepared it about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and a host of other issues.



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